Residents of Houma HLMs still struggling after Hurricane Ida

Ursula Ward is a 45-year-old resident of Houma, and during her life she worked in fast food and served as a housekeeper in a hotel.

Health issues and other issues have kept her from working, but that’s not the biggest problem Ward faces.

Like many victims of 2021’s Hurricane Ida, she is struggling, and relief from those struggles is nowhere in sight.

The Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority, which runs the Senator Circle low-income housing complex that has been its home, has promised things will improve, but so far basic needs are hard to meet. Ward is one of many public housing tenants facing similar issues, according to lawyers representing them. Her story, they say, is emblematic of the hardships faced by others.

“It’s not improving at all; they didn’t start doing anything there,” Ward said. “The grass out back is almost up to the windows, and they’re expecting rent next month.”

With the electricity out after the storm, Ward and his 10-year-old niece Rihanna stayed at her mother’s house on Leona Street in Houma, even though the living situation was cramped and difficult. More than a dozen people were crammed into the house.

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“There were so many people I slept in the van there,” she said.

When Ward learned that the power had been restored to Senator Circle, she returned to the apartment.

“I was trying to salvage what I left in there, in the apartment, which was damaged,” she said. “Clothes, a leather sofa, other things.”

But then she and other tenants who had returned received eviction notices from the Housing Authority because the agency said it had to clean the premises and make sure everything was safe.

With the help of attorneys from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a nonprofit agency, the evictions were halted.

But that did not stop the difficulties that followed.

The Housing Authority offered a Section 8 housing voucher so Ward could have accommodation. But she was unable to find qualified accommodation near Houma, and officials said none existed in Terrebonne or Lafourche.

She is staying in temporary housing provided by FEMA in Jefferson Parish. Although she is grateful to have a roof over her head, the location presents challenges. All of Ward’s doctors are in Houma. Her niece was enrolled in summer camp, but that forces the child to be in Houma.

Ursula Ward lives part of the time in her Senator Circle social housing in Houma.  She says her apartment remains habitable, although most of the 217 units remain vacant due to damage from Hurricane Ida.

The cost of driving an hour and 12 minutes from Jefferson Parish to Houma each day is impossible to cover, Ward said, especially with the dramatic rise in gas prices everyone is experiencing. She lived in the Senator Circle apartment during the week. The problem is that there is no refrigerator and the surrounding conditions are difficult to live with.

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Ward stayed at the Jefferson Parish location most weekends.

Lawyers working on behalf of Ward and other tenants say they and Housing Authority lawyers are doing what they can to reach agreements on how tenants can be helped. The case is in federal court, but nothing has been resolved.

Representatives from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development were due to make a presentation to the Terrebonne Parish Council last week, which may have contained information about the agency’s plans. The presentation, however, was removed from the agenda without any explanation.

“I can’t take it anymore,” said Ward, who is unable to fully utilize his SNAP food perk because there’s no way to store food without a refrigerator. “The Housing Authority needs to do its job so that we can live in our flat and not have these problems. “I pray for better days.”

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